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Monday, 18 June 2012

Which of us is the nutter?



Psychologists have one great problem when they try to classify any type of behaviour as pathological. They must know it to be pathological in the first place or they cannot adopt the role of observer. The problem is that this is never a neutral standpoint, but always an assumed superiority of judgement.

Of course that's what we all assume when we pass judgement on anything, but the point I'm banging on about here is that psychologists cannot sidestep the assumption or even leave it safely in the background.

As far as I can see, this covert assumption works only when the pathological nature of behaviour is beyond question. It falters when the assumption isn’t so obvious. It shouldn’t be a problem for a profession based on good empirical conceptual frameworks, but many psychologists seem quite willing to speculate within their social and political inclinations instead.

Take this recent post at Bishop Hill’s climate blog. It’s about psychologists seeking to explain climate scepticism and maybe even tackle it – presumably as a social problem. Now it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that climate scepticism will have diverse causes, ranging from the political to the gut reaction to the austerely scientific and this is acknowledged in the debate. 

I have to say at this point is that it's not entirely clear whether the psychologists are concerned with a need to get the climate message across or a need to understand scepticism. No matter, there is still one issue psychologists must rule on if they are to treat sceptical behaviour as pathological or even merely undesirable.

The behavioural cause they must rule out for sceptical behaviour is the validity of climate scepticism. If sceptics are right to be sceptical (and how could they not be?) then the psychologists are looking inside the wrong heads. Actually, the right heads are often their own, but that's another issue.

In other words, psychologist first need to know if the CO2 theory of climate change and all its mass of alarming baggage is sensible or not. Clearly it may not be. Otherwise they cannot ascertain who is mistaken within the debate. Without this standpoint, psychologists are themselves pursuing a deluded view of their professional competence.

Not that this would be a surprise.

4 comments:

James Higham said...

Take this recent post at Bishop Hill’s climate blog. It’s about psychologists seeking to explain climate scepticism and maybe even tackle it – presumably as a social problem.

Then implementing a One Flew Over solution on us.

A K Haart said...

James - exactly and we know which is the cuckoo's nest.

Roger said...

I am a skeptic but I think my skepticism is rational. I have worked with psychologists and am not impressed with psychology - strictly for the HR department.

I fully expect big oil and big business to declare there is no problem and if evidence were found to lie about it. I fully expect the climate change lobby to declare there is a big problem and to big-up and boost any shred of evidence.

I have a niggling feeling that those who claim climate change is a big problem bought into a 1970's warm huggy notion and now find there are no real jobs in it.

My main reason for skepticism is politics, I really doubt the politicians could or would prevent trouble from a long, slow and inexorable source. Does this matter? Possibly a few billion people will not get born and a few 100 million may die, not suddenly but over time from the usual ignored causes. Why should we imagine the world will get ever better, there is a good chance it won't.

A K Haart said...

Roger - "My main reason for skepticism is politics, I really doubt the politicians could or would prevent trouble from a long, slow and inexorable source."

Good point - they wouldn't.